Wednesday, June 20, 2012

    Cool Ideas for Camp 2012: Prayer Loom

    Try this idea to provide your youth with a creative way to share their prayers at camp.

    Camp provides the perfect opportunity to help youth and adults experience prayer in a different way using elements of the outdoor setting.  You can build the prayer loom pictured below by lashing together several branches using twine. More twine is then strung vertically to create the loom surface.  Provide particpants with strips of cloth, paper, and other colorful materials along with some fabric pens or markers. Invite them to write their prayers on the strips and then to work together to weave them across the loom as a symbol of the ways our prayers weave us together within God. (Those wishing to keep their prayers private can weave them into the loom upside down or simply pray over a strip of cloth or paper before adding it to the others).

    A nice adaptation of this idea would be to create a loom by stringing twine between two small trees standing several feet apart.  If you create the loom early in the week, campers can add to it throughout your time time together. Perhaps at the end of the week you could invite campers to each take home a prayer from the loom.

    Thursday, June 14, 2012

    Question of the Day: Should We Force Youth to Go to Church?

    Should we force youth to go to church?

    The professional pastor in me says "Yes, of course! How else will we ever have a chance to teach them about the gospel and Jesus and Church?"  But the former teen in me says "Wait a minute.  That's not how it happened with you.  Nobody made you go to church as a teen."

    It's true.  My parents dutifully took us to church as children. My brothers and I went through confirmation and then decided we hadn't heard enough yet -- we weren't ready to join.  Then a falling out with our youth ministers in middle school ended with my brothers and I dropping youth group and church altogether. For the next four years, my parents never made us go to church...and we didn't, even though my dad was a retired pastor who continued to go every Sunday.  

    Then, a funny thing happened. In my senior year of high school, somewhere around early spring, some friends invited us to visit their Sunday night youth group meeting.  My twin brother and I went, we liked it, and we kept attending.  The group was preparing to go on a mission trip. We had not been around for the fundraising and planning but the youth pastor said "It doesn't matter. You are welcome to join us."  So we went on the trip -- which turned out to be the experience that influenced me to go into teaching and eventually the ministry.  I haven't been out of the church since. While all my friends were dropping out of church during college (some never to reengage), I was returning to the Church ready to get my hands dirty for Jesus.  But my devotion was not a result of my parents pushing or forcing me to attend Sunday services or youth group meetings.  Rather, I attribute my longevity in the Church to a personal decision I made on my own and without coercion at the age of eighteen to choose a life of faith.  

    Does this mean I'd like to see all the youth in my church drop out and wait a few years before deciding whether or not to come back? Well, no, but it does make me wonder: We expect teens to wait until they are older to make lots of important decisions. Why not do the same with the decision to commit to a life of faith?  

    What do you think? 

    Tuesday, June 12, 2012

    Cool Ideas for Camp 2012: Floating Prayers

    Suzy Bower shares a cool idea on her blog that would be great for a worship experience at camp if you have a creek, lake or pond: 

    People write down things they want to let go of. This could be a number of things such as regrets they are holding onto, people or situations they overly worried about, or a goodbye to someone who has died. Once this has been written, make a boat out of the paper. Take it to a river, and voilĂ  - a simple but potentially powerful act to symbolise letting these things go. For a Christian audience, the focus could be on letting them go and trusting God with them. Or the letters could be written to ask for forgiveness from God for things. Perhaps you could read a poem or Bible verses, or say a prayer as the boats float away.

    She gives more details on her site as well as directions for turning the written prayers into floatable origami boats.  (Note: You may want to make plans for retrieving the boats after the worship or be sure to use biodegradable paper and ink.)

    7 Ways to Ruin Your Church Camp

    This is a an update of one of our most popular posts for several years ago on the best things to do if you want to guarantee that some of your teens  (and new staff members) have a really terrible experience at church camp:

    1) Play games the first day that force physical interaction. Nothing will ensure that your shy teens and introverts have a terrible start to camp like making them participate in icebreakers and community builders the first day that force them to do things like getting tied into a human knot with a bunch of strangers or build a human pyramid. Those "repeat everyone's name in order" games are pretty intimidating, too. (Interaction is important, of course, but don't force it and don't introduce too much too fast. Community builders are great but it's important to allow the introverts to opt out as needed...within reason. My suggestion is to start with activities that are low threat -- like the "Would you rather" sort of games where there's not a lot of physical interaction and no single person has to be the focus of attention-- and then you work up to those more elaborate team-building games as the teens get to know each other.)

    2) Do skits/pranks where someone is the butt of the joke. Don't you just love those camp skits where some unsuspecting teen gets a bucket of water dumped on his head (or down his pants) or a whipped cream pie pushed in her face? Don't you just love those pranks where the new kid gets his clothes thrown on the roof of the cabin and shampoo in her sleeping bag? (Well, many people don't. Even if the "victim" laughs and plays along, s/he may quietly resent being ridiculed for everyone else's amusement. I could write a book about the problem with camp pranks, but let's move on...)

    3) Sing songs the first few days to which only alumni campers/staff know the words.
    How much fun is it going to camps where there are those clever gimmick songs ("Star-Trekkin!") that only the teens who have been coming to that camp for 3 years know the words! Enjoy the hilarity as everyone else has to awkwardly stand around and just listen or else prove they are "one of the group" by anxiously memorizing the words by the end of the week! This approach will serve to alienate new members of the camp community and send a loud message: "You don't belong...yet."
    (Of course, shared songs are important. I didn't mean to imply you shouldn't sing old songs. But include everyone by providing written lyrics on paper or powerpoint so everybody can participate from the beginning. ) Which leads us to #4...

    4)Perpetuate inside jokes and "remember when" stories from camps past.
    Nothing is funnier than the counselors reminding everyone about "that wacky thing Phil did in the girl's cabin last year" or "the talent show skit that got Cindy into trouble with the staff," even though none of the younger campers have any idea what everyone is laughing at! (Again, this a great way to send the message "We of the inner circle have a history together. You gotta earn your way into the inner circle here by putting in your time.")

    5) Encourage talent show acts that promote stereotypes and prejudices. What's a talent show without ethnic stereotypes: the napping Mexican in a sombrero, the "swami" with his head wrapped in a towel speaking gibberish. And don't forget the unwritten law that there must be camp talent show acts where guys dress in drag. (Ever stop to consider that for some teens, cross-dressing may be a reality in the life of a parent, relative, or friend...or may even be part of their developing gender identity?). And that leads us to #6...

    6) Make a big deal about "purpling!" You know how it goes: boys are "blue" and girls are "pink" and if they get too close (e.g. amorous hugging, kissing, girls in the boys cabin and vice versa) they make "purple!" Talking about this a lot, particularly making a joke out of it, helps sends a silent message that we all know that everyone at camp is really fixated on hooking up and finding a date for the Friday night dance. (Consider that too much talk about this might alienate the youth who are not sexually mature and just came to camp to have fun. It also may send confusing and often alienating signals to youth at camp who are not heterosexual or who are not certain of their sexual identity yet. Perhaps consider including rules about "double blues," and "double pinks.")

    7) Program every minute of the week. Youth live over-programmed lives. Why shouldn't camp be the same way? (Maybe because one of the ways to make camp unique and special is to provide space for youth to be quiet, to hang out, to experience Sabbath, to just "be" for awhile without any more stimuli than the feel of the breeze and the sounds of bees buzzing.)

    Want to add any others?